Hope for Our Country in 12 Little Things

imageI have always been skeptical about self-help books that tend to generalize and over-simplify problems or the solutions to problems. Life has taught me that things are not always as they seem…I have always been skeptical about self-help books that tend to generalize and over-simplify problems or the solutions to problems. Life has taught me that things are not always as they seem… and that a lot of well-meaning advice meted out by popular gurus in overrated self-help books often hit the nail way off of its head. Not a few books offer “simple” steps to success that turn out to be far from simple and a real pain on one’s intellect. On some rare occasions, though, I do stumble upon a gem and my inner skepticism is challenged. Such was the case with a very small book with an even “smaller” title written by Alexander L. Lacson: 12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country.

The title sounds simple enough; too simple, in fact, that it took me a few weeks to decide if it was worth reading at all. Common sense and a deeply instilled desire to do the right thing won over my well-guarded resistance. This tiny book was also given by an acquaintance to my husband with the sincere intention of “spreading the word”, and I was not about to be the hindrance to anyone’s noble intentions for the country.

It is often said that we get the country we deserve. Whether we believe that our country is ailing or in robust health does not belie the fact that we, the Filipinos, make our country what it is today. A nation in constant anarchy eventually dies; whereas a country united by its people’s determined purpose keeps the nation’s heart and pulse beating. I did not fully realize how much I cared about our country until I read the first few chapters of the book. The first two points echoed my deep-seated sentiments and reassured me that I was not a lone crusader.

Lacson began his 12 little things with this: Follow traffic rules. Follow the Law. This is one thing we all can do right away without having to spend any money. Understandably, this willbe more difficult for errant drivers and stubborn pedestrians than it will be for those of us who stop on a red light on an empty highway in the wee hours of the morning. Apparently, it is more difficult to unlearn a habit than it is to learn a new one – but not impossible. Imagine how EDSA would look with all the buses staying within their yellow lanes and not swerving their long steel frames diagonally across three lanes! That alone would ease the traffic situation dramatically and calm the frayed nerves of us hapless drivers.

The bottom line is that following traffic rules and the laws of our land reflect our respect, or lack of it, for our country and for each other. We can, as individuals, begin this discipline by stopping on a red light, using the pedestrian lanes and overpasses, using our car horns and high beams only when necessary, staying on the slow lane when we are not in a rush and curbing our seemingly innate desire to cut on someone else’s lane. According to Lacson, “This simple act of following rules can go a long, long way in our march towards the kind of society we dream for ourselves and our children.” I could not agree more.

His second little thing is this: Whenever you buy or pay for anything, always ask for an official receipt. This may sound a bit simplistic, but its impact on our nation is enormous. In this second chapter, Lacson went on to illustrate how taxes from unclaimed receipts, reflected on each official receipt as a ten percent value-added tax (VAT), accumulate and add up to billions of pesos worth of un-remitted taxes to the government. To simplify it further, imagine ten thousand motorists not claiming receipts for their mall parking fees worth forty pesos per vehicleper day. In one day, those unclaimed receipts will amount to four hundred thousand pesos of undeclared and un-remitted taxes! And that is just for one mall on any given day! We, as a people, need to be vigilant in demanding for a receipt every time we pay for anything. We do a disservice to our country whenever we don’t. Just do the math.

There is another little thing I feel strongly about and which Lacson mentioned in his sixth chapter: Do not litter. Dispose your garbage properly. Segregate. Recycle. Conserve. I wish I could say that this is simple but it’s not. I only recently discovered, to my detriment, that a significantly large part of our society does not support this movement. My husband and I live in a relatively progressive community that promotes, as one of its programs, the collection of recyclable junk. The reality, however, is that our village relies on outsourced trash collectorswho, like most small roadside business operators, think small. They seldom show up on schedule, are very choosy about the junk they collect, and pay very little for them. These hold true for all the junk shop operators within a two-mile stretch of our village. My house is now filled with mounds of uncollected and undesirable segregated trash.

It is this small-mindedness more than anything else that promotes this utter lack of concern for our environment. But then again, maybe it is the other way around. We need to start looking at the bigger picture and understanding the negative impact of our irresponsible waste disposal on our country. Lacson cited in this same chapter that the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) acknowledged that garbage is one of the major problems in Metro Manila today. We only need to look outside our windows to be reminded of this tragic reality.

Throwing our trash in their proper disposal units is another reflection of how much we value and respect our country and our people. Lacson reiterated that this does not cost us any money (again) but requires a conscious and deliberate effort to do the right thing. Have you ever followed an expensive car on the road and see trash flying out of its rolled-down power window? It takes discipline and a whole lot of courtesy to hold on to that piece of trash until you get to your destination – a trash bin. I have always believed that one person, regardless of status in life,can make a difference; just as one piece of carelessly discarded plastic can make a difference.We have a choice, and I pray we choose well

Lacson continued to enumerate the other little things we can do to help our country such as buying locally manufactured goods, speaking positively about our country and people to others, respecting our law officers, supporting our church, doing our duty as voters, paying our employees well, paying our taxes, adopting a scholar or poor child and being a good parent.Most of these are things we can already do right this minute which is why if every Filipinowould just start doing one or two of them, our country will already be a better place.

There were a few points Lacson raised that do require more introspection than the others. For example, while I strongly oppose buying smuggled goods and do believe in supporting our local industry, our “pwede na” (make do) mentality, not to mention greed and the desire to earn more for less, prompt many of us buyers and consumers to look for quality, though not necessarily expensive, merchandise elsewhere. The proliferation of “ukay-ukay” (dig andrummage) outlets, pirated items and imitation brands does not bode well for our local industry. It will take a concerted effort from the manufacturers, vendors and consumers to catapult our local industry to new and greater heights.

Another point Lacson raised that demanded more serious thought was his statement,“They (referring to traffic and law enforcers in the fifth chapter) are what they are because of what we are. They are who they are because of who we are.” While I agree with him that our actions toward others usually beget similar reactions, I still firmly believe that our attitude, words and actions are our responsibility. We cannot, and should not, expect others to be nice to us first so that we will be nice to them in return. Our words or actions should never be hinged or dependent on what other people say or do to us first. In the end, we are all accountable to God and to each other for our thoughts, words and actions. I do understand where Lacson is coming from in this chapter, though, and I am all for respecting other people regardless of occupation, status or appearance. It remains a fact, however, that respect is earned, not demanded.

I admire Lacson’s courage and determination  to speak his mind about the things that really matter and the steps we can and should take, no matter how “little”, to help make the Philippines a better country than what it is today. No amount of wishing or promising will get us anywhere. We all need to take baby steps at first and gradually mature to be a united people with a sense of pride and purpose for our nation. We all need to start in our own homes, teaching and instilling these values and more to our children and grandchildren. It is crucial that we first livethe lessons we preach and set the best examples for our children. Lacson said it best when he stated, “Today’s children will someday rule and lead this world. But whether they will be bad rulers or good leaders, will depend largely on how we raise them today.” May the next generation inherit a nation that is truly proud and free, and deserving of us mere yet sincere mortals.

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The feeling of being homeless…

My husband and I have been renting apartments since we got married. Where we live, it is not easy to own a home. The insecurity of being driven out of a place and being homeless has been with me ever since.

Just two weeks ago, we were informed that the apartment we are renting has already been sold and that we need to move out within 2 to 3 weeks. We were stunned and felt very betrayed. Looking for a relatively decent place to move into on a very small budget that allows pets is very difficult. We had to adjust our schedules so we could look at several places to rent at such short notice.

Without the money to advance to landlords (at least 3 months’ worth), we could just look at places but not reserve. We have been to most cities that are not too far from where my husband works and have seen really depressing places. We have been on a rollercoaster of emotions the past two weeks.

The reality that we will be homeless within a few weeks hit us really hard. Without the financial means to rent a place in such a short time drove us deep into depression. I have always been irate at the government for driving illegal settlers away without any relocation plans for them. It is cruel and inhumane. Every human being has the right to a decent place to live. Our society has blatantly ignored this basic right for decades. We are all answerable for this intolerable cruelty.

I know people who also almost lost their homes – and those who actually did. It is downright wrong.

I applaud people who establish shelters for the homeless. There should be more of them and more facilities for the homeless. No one should ever be deprived of this basic human right.

Now I personally know how it feels. I pray to God that we will be given the means to help others in this plight.

It’s time to move out and move on…

Have you ever been living in a place where more bad experiences happen than good? I am not superstitious, but I do believe that some places harbor more bad people than others, and therefore, more bad incidents and unpleasant experiences. I also believe that if the intentions for every action are not pure, then bad things can only follow them.

I just came from walking our two well-behaved dogs, as I do every morning. This particular time was the worst yet. I make sure they do their “business” in areas that are relatively accepted as “business areas”, and not on people’s front yards. If the dogs do have their occasional “accidents”, I do pick up the mess. Without elaborating on it, I had a confrontation with a selfish and boorish man who didn’t even have the right to claim a space that belonged to a school. It was a very unpleasant, to say the least, experience. I can hardly wait to move out! Thankfully, it is just a matter of weeks. This is not a good place for pets.

And this is not the first time. The people in this neighborhood are mostly selfish, boorish and uncouth. Stray dogs abound because the owners just let them be. These dogs chase people and other dogs, bark incessantly, especially at night, and harass our dogs. If not for the many lessons I learned from Cesar Milan, I would have had several anxiety attacks.

This is the place where we experienced the most stress. The noise level is unacceptable. All types of vehicles pass in front of the place (the road has become a bypass road for buses, trucks, loud tricycles and motorcycles, and even heavy equipment!). Smog levels are high.

People still burn their trash regularly here which means our clothes and just about everything else smell like smoke. Our lungs don’t fare well either. People blatantly throw trash on the streets and even right on the driveway. The whole place smells of putrid trash most days of the week, especially before trash pick-up. I literally wake up from the stench in the middle of the night.

Neighbors on the left, right, front and back of this place blare out their bad singing with their videoke machines quite frequently in a month. They don’t care that they keep us awake ‘til the wee hours of the night, as long as they are entertained. There is no care or regard for others anymore.

The neighbors behind us have about six children who scream and play at around 6-7 am – while we are still asleep. We stay up pretty late because it is simply difficult to fall asleep in this place. You can imagine what I’ll say next.

There have been robberies here as well – in this apartment and the next. We have never felt safe here.

And then there are the many unpleasant personal experiences related to this place – the pain, death, loss, betrayal, abuse. Again, if the intentions are not pure, bad things will surely follow. We moved here not of our own volition. And now we are being driven away with very little time to prepare for another move.

Yes, it’s time to go. It was time to go the day we moved here, because we moved very reluctantly from a place we were happy living in for eight years. I always knew this was very temporary, and I’m grateful it is. In fact, I never fully unpacked. This is the first time. I did not place all my magnets on the fridge because I did not want to stay long. The term “I never felt at home here” certainly applies. There are no good associations or memories here – quite the opposite, in fact. I pray this nightmare of a place will end soon. I have been praying this the past two years we stayed here. It is finally answered.

There’s hope if you can…

Back in the day, we, Filipinos were very good in English, both written and verbal. English tutorial centers were unheard of and even the smallest business sign in the most rural part of town was correctly spelled and grammatically correct. I would be pleasantly surprised to meet garage workers and street vendors who spoke good English and could give present-day call center applicants a run for their money.

It’s obviously a different story nowadays. English is not even a second language anymore — it is a completely foreign language. There is a sad proliferation of grammatically erroneous signs, menus,Image

printed announcements and promotional materials. It’s tragic, really, considering these go through the editing board.

As an online buyer and seller, I encounter too many “English” terms and phrases that cause my eyes to bleed out of their sockets. If you can spot what’s wrong, then there’s hope for us.

1. For rent, newly build house…

2. Large salas, spacious dinning room…

3. For sale, used guitar in prestine condition…

4. Garage sale: appliances, furnitures, restaurant equipments…

5. Rare model. Value for the money. I almost did not used this for I have many guitars.

6.  Still in good condition with complete in box.
7. The built in sequencer can have you up and recording songs in a short time
8. First come, first serve basis only.
9. (from a song…) “Today I swear I’m not doin’ anything; I just wanna lay in my bed…”
There are more of these — too many! Maybe I can post them next time.

My wishes for my country


As much as I am tempted to bash my country and the people who run it, I will, instead, opt to be hopeful and create my wishlist for this country I call my home.

For our leaders:

1. I wish for them to have true reverence for our God and spiritual transformation as evidenced by the fruits they bear.

2. I wish for them to genuinely love people in order for them to genuinely love our country.

3. I wish for them to truly care for Mother Earth and to take the urgent steps to save our planet, one small barrio street at a time.

4. I wish for them to drive themselves to and from work once in a while, to sit in traffic and come up with real and viable solutions to the many potholes, inefficient traffic flow, law violators, and the many MMDA officers lurking in shaded areas and behind curbs, waiting to pounce on innocent drivers instead of preventing traffic violations before they happen.

5. I wish for them to lead by powerful and inspiring example and educate the masses on how to be a model citizen of our country.

6. I wish for them to take public transportation once in a while to inhale the smog, get their well-groomed hair or toupees all messed up, feel the sticky and smelly perspiration trickle down their spine, witness the many poor children who board the jeepneys to beg for money and simply experience how it is really like for most public commuters.

7. I wish for them to really look around while they ride in their airconditioned luxury vehicles and not stick their noses on their cellphones and IPads. They might just notice the many homeless living under the sky ways and the “rugby boys” who pose a grave threat to many commuters. And I wish that they will actually contact the necessary agencies to address this serious situation. Yes, Mr. President, Congressman and Senator – this is SERIOUS!

8. I wish for them to end their greed once and for all – to use their allotted funds to improve the welfare of their constituents instead of printing countless streamers, billboards and floor tiles to promote their over-indulgent faces and “HB” initials that mean nothing to any of us and do nothing to alleviate the poverty in this country.

9. I wish for them to pass a law that protects job seekers and employees from age, gender and physical discrimination and enforce this law on companies so that they will become equal opportunity employers. Is it any wonder that our countrymen are leaving for greener pastures despite the negative effect on their families?

10. I wish for our president to just STEP UP to the plate.

For our countrymen:

1. I wish we would educate ourselves properly. Read, listen, observe, read. It does not take a formal education to be educated in what is moral, ethical, considerate and right.

2. I wish parents would educate themselves on how to raise their children the right way. Parents are spoiling their children more and teaching them less values; they are spending less time conversing with them and more time on their gadgets and businesses. Just because a person has a child does not mean that person knows how to raise that child properly. Parenting manuals and tips abound everywhere. Use them.

3. I wish we will be more conscientious about caring for our planet by segregating our trash, using less water and electrical power, by not throwing our garbage just anywhere, and NOT spitting anywhere. Anyone can do this — it is not rocket science. Plant more trees — DON’T CUT THEM FOR ANOTHER PARKING LOT, SM!!!

4. I wish we would all genuinely care for one another. We all need compassion, and we all need to give it as well.

5. I wish we could be kind to one another. Let us stop bullying each other, and stop the bullies who make going to school or work a nightmare for many.

6. I wish we would take a definite stand against  abuse of any kind, especially the sexual abuse of children. All abusers and perpetrators should be put in jail so that less children will be exposed to these dangerous criminals. I wish parents who choose to coddle the abuser/s of their children would be made seriously accountable for their selfish actions.

7. I wish we could all dream big dreams for ourselves, our families, our country and our planet, without harming or sacrificing anyone or anything.

And so my wish… is that these wishes will be granted.

Worship no matter what…

It’s another new year. I am very grateful for the physical, emotional and mental rest I am enjoying with my family for a few weeks. The past year has been pain-filled; losing many loved ones, grappling with God and his promises, struggling to keep my head above raging waters, and simply striving to survive.

God’s many promises seemed irrelevant to me and my situation. They were outdated and were definitely objective reality as far as I was concerned. I witnessed injustice, suffering, severe pain and loss among my family, friends and countrymen. God’s mercy and deliverance seemed very far away.

After more than a year of leaving my Bible on a shelf to gather dust, I fearfully picked it up and leafed through the still crisp pages. It was an emotional experience. I know in my heart that Jesus never left me, but I stopped believing in his word — at least those that promise deliverance, provision and help to the widows, orphans and fatherless.

I did not go to my “favorite”‘ books. I simply skimmed through and decided to read Habakkuk. This was not a book I often read so I was stunned to read “myself” and my situation so accurately described by the author. I cried his cry for many months: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you , “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” – Habakkuk 1: 2-3 (NIV throughout)

Did I receive the answers I wanted to hear? I guess not. I was utterly despondent and wondered if God would ever forgive me for dwelling in negativity and misery for so long. In his unfailing love and mercy, he whispered these words to me.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” – Habakkuk 3: 17-19

He is healing me enough to begin praising him – “….to choose to trust God and declare that his character is perfect – even when we don’t understand and our hearts are breaking.” – Insight on Worship, CGSB, NIV

My heart is still breaking. My husband and I just lost another beloved pet only one week ago. By God’s strength, I choose to be hopeful and to continue to live my life with all my heart and might because life is just too short to remain in pain, anguish and grief. We have a mighty and loving God who continues to save and heal us. And he continues to save and heal me, one small step at a time.

Struggling with grief…

After what seems to be forever, I finally picked up a sharp HB pencil, dusted it off, and with trembling fingers, placed lead on paper. I managed to draw a few curves and lines but couldn’t see what it was I was drawing. It didn’t take the shape I wanted it to and no amount of erasures and retouches could capture the spirit or form of my subject. My vision began to blur as tears gathered in my eyes. I was trying to draw Beans, our beloved six-year old Labrador Retriever who passed away a little over six months ago.

Our sweet, funny and loyal boy passed on after almost a month of suffering from kidney infection. My husband and I panicked and worried about him endlessly and lived several miles from our trusted vet. We had relocated over a year ago and had difficulty finding pet clinics and vets that were up to par. When Beans’ kidneys failed, we took him to a recommended vet who did a very bad job with his surgery and post-surgery care. We will always regret that decision made in a panic. We didn’t know where else to go.

After much prayer and tears, we put our baby Beans to sleep and buried him in a compassionate friend’s backyard. We do not have soil or a garden where we reside in now. My husband stayed up with Beans the whole night and just soothed and comforted him while I fell asleep crying.

It has been years since I last sketched or drew anything. It’s what I had done and known all my life and the inability to get back to it due to depression has ridden me with guilt and anger for many years. I thought that starting over with a picture of Beans would help me and be therapeutic, in a way. It wasn’t. Or maybe it was.

I still couldn’t draw, but crying my heart out again helped. I miss our baby Beans. Hubby and I find it difficult to talk about him without breaking down. But we need to talk about him. We need to look at his pictures – and are we thankful that we took a lot of them! He was a very willing subject. He was willing to do anything to please us.

A good friend gave us our new pup Eloise, a Jack Russell Terrier, two months later. While she brings us much joy and is possibly the most affectionate kisser, the void Beans has left in our hearts refuses to be filled. Our little Peanut (a feisty min pin we’ve had for more than four years now) also continues to be my” little one”, but I will always miss our big boy.

The dark marks on our wall will remain untouched for a while because they were left behind by Beans. Perhaps my sketchbook will remain untouched as well for a few more months. I haven’t recovered. I don’t know when I will, but I’ll give myself permission to grieve some more, and I won’t set any deadlines.

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